Just how bigoted are Britons?

Observations on anti-semitism

Political elections, like Greek tragedies, have a deus ex machina - the divine being who can effect totally unexpected twists in the plot. Increasingly, the role of political deus ex machina is played by Stanley Greenberg.

The American pollster thinks of himself as a "narrative pollster" - where others see just numbers, he sees stories. He stepped into the limelight when he helped first-timer Bill Clinton to win over George Bush Sr in 1992. He went on to poll for Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in South Africa; Ehud Barak in Israel; Francesco Rutelli (standing against Silvio Berlusconi in Italy last year); Gerhard Schroder in Germany; and - yes - Tony Blair. He has also helped promote the Nobel-prizewinning International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Red Cross committee on the rules of war, and the Better World Campaign.

His corporation, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc (GQR), boasts offices in Washington, London and Tel Aviv. GQR's manifesto, which appears on the company's website, is clear-cut: to help progressive leaders modernise their parties in order to win more votes. Over the past decade, the GQR logo has surfaced in most of the key elections held around the globe. Indeed, some would argue that Greenberg has personally reshaped the very idea of centre-left governance in the west. "The great struggle of the Nineties" - as he summarises it - "was to make the welfare state survive in the global market."

None of these challenges, however, can quite compare with the one Greenberg took up this month. Bicom, the London-based, Zionist communications and PR agency, has hired him to counter the British media's unsympathetic attitude toward Israel. According to a "focus group" meeting held earlier this year by Frank Luntz (the Republican pollster), British professionals and academics are particularly hostile to Israeli policies. Bicom has called in Greenberg to determine just how serious the anti-Israeli bias is in this country. The poll will be followed up, according to Lee Petar, acting director of Bicom, by a media campaign whose "first targets" will be the British professional classes. Although Petar would not give any details about what form the media campaign would take, one area that might warrant some Greenberg-style "modernising" is Bicom's website, peppered at present with statements such as "Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity" and "no Palestinian would risk injury if they were not attacking Israelis".

Other Zionist organisations in Britain have welcomed the appointment, agreeing that he has a role to play. "It's not just a matter of image. Diminishing Israel causes anti-Semitism," says Fiona Macaulay, public affairs director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. She points out that since October 2000, when the new intifada started, episodes of anti-Semitism have increased 400 per cent in Britain.

Diane Langford, press officer of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, however, says she sees no point in hiring a pollster's services, because, she claims: "Polling is expensive and the funds would be better employed in helping out victims of atrocities in the Middle East."

Greenberg's latest challenge risks drawing him into a potentially embarrassing contradiction. When he masterminded Barak's electoral campaign, he favoured the Labour candidate's progressive electoral programme, which included Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

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